Shoes, Spark Plugs and Satisfaction ... Online
If you’re like most consumers, buying online is more of a possibility today than it was yesterday, and you’ll probably think about it more tomorrow. Can big wins be made by optimizing your online shopping experience? Best Buy did and boasted a 34 percent increase in online sales for the fourth quarter of 2008. infoUSA.com did, and it more than doubled its online revenue in just one year.
It all started with a pair of shoes. When it was time for a new pair, a friend of mine strongly recommended Zappos.com, because it ships quickly and pays for returns. Great customer service made her an active advocate for Zappos — and for doing business online. It took two brands, three styles and two colors (five returns in all) to find the perfect pair of cross-trainers. Buying shoes online wasn’t very hard at all, really, and the luxury of trial and error made it fine, so long as there was time.
Not everything is as easy as shoe shopping online. Spark plugs, for example, can be quite challenging to order. There are at least 200 varieties available on NAPA Auto Parts’ Web site, and at least 20 for my specific make and model vehicle. Uncertainty like this in the online buying experience is just one culprit among many that leads consumers to other Web sites or offline altogether.
Could it really be that hard to sell data online? Well, the conclusion we came to is that it’s no pair of shoes, that’s for sure.
To make the process as simple and satisfying as possible, infoUSA discovered that the best approach was to listen to customers. While selling data online proves challenging, talking to our customers is actually quite easy. In fact, once we started, it became hard to stop.
We listened for a year and learned an awful lot. We energized our company to take action by creating user personas, or generalized background stories behind the common customer segments. Illustrating our “first date” customer, for example, helped the company — at all levels — understand our first-time buyers’ needs, wants and what specifically they were looking for infoUSA to fulfill. In contrast, our “on again/off again” customer helped us realize how different buying cycles really are from customer to customer.
This insight helped us triage obstacles to online sales and innovate our online experience with the items that would have the most impact on customer satisfaction, including: improved mail merge functionality, new search flows, tailored shopping carts, technological improvements and the addition of infoUSA’s Customer Analyzer, which takes a list of the best customers and instantly provides new prospects just like them.
The results: Online revenue more than doubled over the course of this year from listening and improving. (Note that our growth online didn't result in a decline in offline revenue. In fact, offline sales rose as well.) Customer satisfaction scores rose almost two full points on a 10-point scale.
How can you do the same? It’s simpler than you think. Try a model like this:
Step 1: Understand your customers. Talk to them. Start small; we did. After 350 or so phone interviews, you can have 90 percent confidence in the results with a standard deviation of +/- 5 percent. In short, if you ask 350 customers the same question, you have a 90 percent chance of seeing the same response breakdown, give or take a handful of them.
Step 2: Envision how they’ll interact with your product(s). Think about the full benefit to the customers. Is the benefit what you’re selling, or is it what they’ll do with what you’re selling? Mapping out this full interaction helps you find ways to increase satisfaction simply by taking a broader, more supportive role.
Step 3: Energize your company toward action. What will make your company take action? Is the research enough, or do you need to get creative about how you communicate it? User personas worked great for infoUSA. Take the time to find what works for your company.
Step 4: Measure successes and failures. Keep the lines of communication open. Ask your customers about the changes you’re planning to make, and ask them again after you’ve made them.
Step 5: Repeat. Success is a cycle, not an event. It’s a journey, not a destination. Tweak or refine this model — or create your own.
Put the power of customer satisfaction behind your online innovations, and watch your sales soar.